One man is facing major consequences for a public gathering in New Orleans in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Although social distancing is key to preventing the spread of the virus, the arrest and containment of the man bring to question the usefulness of criminalization during a public health crisis.
According to WWL, Cecil Spencer was arrested by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) after he was accused of organizing a second line parade that brought over 100 people out in the middle of a city-wide stay-at-home order. He was arrested around 4:15 on Monday after a warrant for his arrest was issued on Sunday. It’s still not clear based on the booking records what he was charged with.
The second line began Saturday afternoon south of Gert Town. Spencer was apprehended on this same block. Officers were responding to a report of a large gathering at the location, according to the NOPD. Once officers arrived, they found a band playing and around 100 people present at the location.
Cops said they requested the organizers shut down the event but they refused. Clifton Smith was identified as the band’s leader and he was issued a summons, according to police.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards both issued mandates banning large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak in Louisiana. A task force was even created by the NOPD to cite businesses that don’t comply with the regulations listed by the orders. There’s no word on whether this task force was involved with Monday’s arrest.
Once Spencer was locked up on Monday, no bail was set and it’s not certain when he can see a judge, considering the city’s court system is shut down because of the virus. More arrests are expected to happen as more people were identified from the second line, according to city officials.
According to Fox 8, Spencer was booked into the Orleans Parish Justice Center.
Across the country, politicians are criminalizing public gatherings despite jails and prisons already being filled up with inmates who are vulnerable to the coronavirus because of the contained space. Although many police departments say they’re arresting low-level offenses as a last resort, the worries of incarcerated individuals still remain, especially if they have underlying conditions that could be lethal if they contract the virus. Cities like Los Angeles are freeing inmates while a city like New York is still housing inmates in the notorious Rikers Island jail. The jail’s top doctor is calling it a “public health” disaster, according to The Guardian.
Under such conditions, alternatives to incarceration would probably be a better resort, particularly for these times. Fines aren’t necessarily the answer either, considering people are already struggling from the economic downturn due to the coronavirus. Whatever the answers are, officials might want to find them fast and get creative.